Gone but not forgotten

Unknown Treasures

One of the good things about being off work is that while you do things around the house at a Doctor’s orders sloth-like pace – cooking inventive new meals, the occasional trip to the cupboard under the stairs to retrieve the hoover every couple of days, a bit of ironing maybe, emptying the dishwasher, rearranging the record collection – you can listen to what you fancy at neighbour-bothering volume knowing that 1) the neighbours are at work so won’t be bothered and 2) the house is empty, save yourself.

The past week or so I’ve massively rediscovered Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division. It was played that often in my late teens it became embedded in the music section of my brain, hard-wired to be heard without the necessity of having to actually play it again. Long before Steve Jobs had thought of the iPod, I had my own non-tangible music file that could be recalled at will and played wherever I happened to want to hear it. Sandwiched between the back catalogues of The Beatles and The Smiths and an occassional Dylan and Bowie, it keeps esteemed company. Super Furry Gruff Rhys has said similar things about The Velvet Underground And Nico, so I know I’m not alone. It’s been a while since Unknown Pleasures was actually played though, and played at volume at that, so the past few days have been soundtracked once again by its cold, uninviting touch.

joy-division-cummins-1

I came to the album in a very round about way. Like many, I’d wager, I discovered New Order before I’d even heard of Joy Division. It’s an age thing – while Joy Division were initially thrilling those teenagers who were outside looking inside (that’s a wee label reference for any geeks out there) with their other-worldly post-punk, I was doing the Nutty Dance and ah-ha-eh-ha-ing my best Adam Ant impressions, but once I started reading about New Order and discovered they’d been a different band in a previous life, I was curious enough to look for a Joy Division record in Irvine Library.

Simultaneously, just as I was having my moment of enlightenment, Paul Young’s No Parlez album happened to be something of a popular record in my peer group at the time. Go on! Judge us all you want…

On Paul Young’s album he did a version of Love Will Tear Us Apart, all rubberband fretless bass and other such 80s wankery. Being a trainspotter-in-training,  I noticed the writing credits on the label and put two and two together. So, if it hadn’t been for the unlikely bedfellows of New Order and Paul Young, I may never have got to Joy Division until much later in life.

joy-division-live

When I first heard Unknown Pleasures, it sounded other-worldly, claustrophobic and not entirely pleasant. But I stuck with it. Nowadays it’s synonymous with the record sleeve imagery and Kevin Cummins’ iconic, epoch-defining monochrome shots in the snow, graphics that mirror the cold intensity of the music created and played by these serious young men. It’s the drums that get me. While the guitar, a howl of electrified cheesewire, bites in all the right places and Hooky’s trademark bass meanders up and down the frets with determined focus, the drums sound both futuristic and olde worlde.

joy-division-steve

The rudimentary synth pads hiss like a steam-powered Victorian workhouse, military in precision, rhythmic, never losing the pace. It wouldn’t be long until Depeche Mode and Yazoo took the blueprint and ran with it in their own chart-chasing directions, but Joy Division were the originators. Or maybe that was Kraftwerk…

Eerie whirring sounds (on Insight) were the sounds of the actual lift inside Strawberry Studios, where the album was created. At one point, the density of I Remember Nothing is punctuated by a shattering glass. That used to make me jump, even after I’d heard it 10 or 15 times. The album still sounds quite like nothing else. Imitators have managed to spit out Tesco Value versions of the real thing ever since, but Unknown Pleasures is peerless.

joy-division-curtis

Every listen transports you back to the dark days of the end of the 70s. Now, to be clear, my end of the 70s was a brilliant time; Scotland had a decent football team, I was discovering pop music, I lived near a big field where we could play in safety, I was never off my bike, all my pals lived in the same street as me….being young at the time was magic. But Joy Division, a decade or so older than me captured the bleakness of their times perfectly. Set against a backdrop of social division, mass unemployment, strikes, Thatcher, the music becomes the only possible soundtrack. It’s much more sophisticated than Lydon’s “nO fUTuRe!” gobby snarl. Nothing wrong with Johnny’s war cry, but Joy Division did it far more artily. And I like my music on occasion to be arty and self-indulgent. Stick with it and it offers up greater rewards. A BBC4 documentary last year on the band had fast-cut, black and white film footage of inner city Manchester soundtracked by Shadowplay. And it was perfect.

Joy DivisionShadowplay

joy-division-bernard

The first copy I had of Unknown Pleasures was on a hissy C90 version I’d taped from that LP I borrowed from Irvine Library. For all its scrapes and scratches (every time I hear Day Of The Lords, I expect my CD or needle to skip half-way through, and it always throws me when it doesn’t), that record had real life in it. If you held it up to the light, it changed colour from black to a deep maroon. I borrowed it more than once, to play loudly – it sounded far better than the tape I’d recorded – but sometimes just to look at and impress any pals who may have shown half an interest. It never occurred to me that I could buy my own, pristine copy. It was enough for me to have a badly recorded version on tape. Certainly an original Factory release, Irvine Library’s copy would command a high fee well into triple figures if it was still around and up for sale. Makes you (or me, at any rate) wonder what other treasure – unknown treasures? – loitered unassumingly in their racks.

joy-division-hooky

Cover Versions, demo, Gone but not forgotten, Kraut-y

Riff Trade #2

Or, There’s Always Been A Dance Element To Our Music. Post Stone Roses, everyone in 1990 had sacked their rock drummer, got themselves a loose-limbed octopus who could replicate Clyde Stubblefield‘s funkier moments from James Brown’s Greatest Hits and began making records that folk in outdated quiffs could sorta shuffle around to in a faux-druggy state. I know, because I was one of those shuffling folk with outdated quiff. Two months later and it had been fashioned into a Paul McCartney ’65 classic, but when the first strains of the Paris Angels or Northside or Flowered Up began to appear in the gaps between The Cramps and Smiths records at The Attic in Irvine, it was quiffs everywhere for as far as the eye could see. You’ll know this already, but Northside et al weren’t the first bands to shout accusingly at the drummer, “Less thunk, more funk!” There are plenty of examples of when ‘rock’ bands go ‘dance’.

Back when Joy Division were unsigned and known as Warsaw, RCA gave them some money to record a demo. Celebrated local Northern Soul DJ Richard Searling convinced the band they should record a version of Nolan Porter‘s Keep On Keepin’ On. Porter’s record was a staple of the northern soul scene, a gigantic record with a jagged, juddering riff that could’ve come straight off The Stooges first LP. It still sounds urgent, fresh and NOW!, even more so today. Jessie J and David Guetta at T In The Park?!? Fuck right off! Sorry. I digress. Warsaw, keen to impress RCA and gain a record deal went so far as to record a version of Keep On Keepin’ On, but as Bernard Sumner ruefully reflected, “they tried to make Ian Curtis sound like James Brown.” Given that this wasn’t quite the sound these intense young men were looking for, their recording was aborted, never to see the light of day. However…

Click the image for full effect!

Sumner turned the riff inside out, played it 10 times faster than Nolan Porter and presented his band with a new tune. Using the RCA money, they cut Interzone. Listen to both tunes then spot the similarities. They’re all there. Warsaw’s take on the gigantic, jagged, juddering riff is even more Stooges-like, the perfect foil for the Ian Curtis body pop. Nothing at all like the Nolan Porter record, it was unsurprising that RCA didn’t like it. Which as it turned out, was good news for Tony Wilson, Factory Records and for all of us.

*Bonus Tracks!

Joy DivisonInterzone (Unknown Pleasures LP version)

David BowieWarszawa (the glacial track that in 1977 christened Ian Curtis’ band with no name)